Review: Never has tonguing people in masks been so fun?and age appropriate.
In 1995 Yoshi's Island for the Super Nintendo re-defined the platformer with its blend of innovative gameplay mechanics. Although overshadowed somewhat by Donkey Kong Country at the time, the game's legacy has outlived its competition. Now Yoshi's Island is considered to be one of the best games of all time. Nintendo released Yoshi's Story, a semi-sequel of sorts for the Nintendo 64 in 1998. However, that game alienated fans by straying too far from the original premise. It seems Nintendo learned its lesson and has finally developed a true sequel to the SNES classic with Yoshi's Island DS. Or have they?
Yoshi's Island DS takes place after the events of the original game. All is well on Yoshi's Island until the evil sorcerer Kamek and his goons kidnap all the babies in the land. As with the original, among these babies are the infant Super Mario Brothers. Due to a goon's incompetence (subsequently fired and seeking unemployment) Mario manages to escape, and falls again into the hands of the benevolent Yoshi clan. The clan of sentient dinosaurs decides to investigate the baby napping, taking Mario along for the ride.
Many players will notice that this story is very similar to the original. The gameplay likewise follows suit. Yoshi must transport Mario & company across five worlds with eight levels and two bosses each. With the exception of falling-related deaths, Yoshi himself is not damaged when hit by enemies. Instead, the baby he is carrying flies off his back, and floats encased and crying in a bubble. Yoshi must retrieve this baby before an on-screen timer runs out and he or she is kidnapped by Kamek's goons. Lose a baby and it's game over. Each level has a certain number of stars that the player can collect to increase this time from a frantic ten seconds to a more comfortable thirty. Yoshi also retains the ability to turn enemies into eggs by swallowing them. These eggs can be used as projectiles to defeat enemies and hit switches.
The most significant new addition to the game is the ability to switch between babies. As the player progresses through the game, more babies become available. These include: Mario, Donkey Kong, Peach, Wario and Baby Bowser. The player switches between these infants by stomping on stork icons that are strategically placed in each level. Each baby comes with a slew of unique abilities. For example, Donkey Kong can swing from vines and allows Yoshi to execute a shoving maneuver that damages enemies. Meanwhile Bowser can spit fire, but selecting him prohibits the use of Yoshi's tongue. Additionally, only Mario can hit blocks, Wario holds a magnet that attracts coins, and Yoshi can temporarily float using Peach's parasol. Many times players must strategically use each baby to solve puzzles and overcome obstacles.
Overall Yoshi's Island is a slightly harder game than its predecessor (which was criticized for being overly easy). Getting each baby back is often much more difficult due to certain environmental concerns. For example, if you are on a vine with Donkey Kong and he gets knocked off, you must tread air in order to get him back so you can climb back on the vine or else plummet to your death. There are also a number of challenging moving platform puzzles with dropping blocks and pit full of lava. Despite all this, the game is never that hard and due to the game's liberal granting of extra lives most players will be able to complete it in about ten hours minus secrets.
Fans will be glad to hear for the most part the game is almost exactly like its predecessor. However this is also a curse. Whereas Yoshi's Story took too much of a departure from the series, Yoshi's Island DS feels like more of an add-on pack full of scrapped levels from the original game. For instance, many of the enemies are recycled from the previous entry. Levels also possess similar themes to what we saw ten years ago. Boss battles go roughly the same: Kamek takes a normal enemy and makes him larger and more threatening. Younger players who never had the privilege of playing the Super Nintendo Yoshi's Island won't mind this. However, older players, like myself, will quickly get the feeling that they have been there, done that.
Each of the side-scrolling Super Mario Bros. games featured a new style filled with new gameplay elements. Look at Super Mario 3's suits compared to Super Mario World's dinosaur theme. Yoshi's Island DS' designers should have taken a hint from this series. Yes the baby switching is there but I could not help but feel annoyed by this rather than intrigued. Some of the babies (Wario and Bowser) don't add that much to the gameplay and feel forced into the levels. It halts the flow of the action by forcing the player to stop and pick. I much prefer the original in which Yoshi's only rider was Mario. There are ways to shake up the game play other than constantly switching between tykes.
With Yoshi's Island, Nintendo wanted to make a 2-D sidescroller that looked like a children's storybook. In this regard, Yoshi's Island DS pulls this off to a T. The detailed 2-D graphics are colorful and fit the game's theme. The dual DS screens are used rather innovatively by giving the player a large view of what is above and below them. In effect, the two screens function as one. The sound effects are pretty much a rehash, but one could argue this is a situation where if it ?ain't broke don't fix it.? Once exception is that the baby crying is more annoying than ever. Wario sounds like someone chewing metal nails while Peach is akin to Paris Hilton after accidentally sitting on her Chihuahua (again). The music is unmemorable and repetitive, as if the same five tracks are playing over and over.
While the game features no multiplayer component, it nevertheless has a good deal of replay value through the number of secret stages the player can unlock. The player accesses these stages by finishing each of a world's eight levels with 30 seconds on the clock and collecting all the red coins and flowers per level. The player must complete many levels over again to obtain all these, since some of these items can only be obtained by going back with certain babies that were previously unavailable.